4 Approaches to Problem Solving: John 6:1-15


We’re going to complete John 6 in chunks. There’s lots of Truth to chew on and if we don’t allow it to digest in our hearts, we’ll never experience God’s restorative power in our lives. So, we’ll take it slow, listen carefully, and create space in our heart for God to work. Right?! Right.

Coming up is a well-known miracle of Jesus: feeding the five thousand. This miracle was recorded in all the gospels, so it was weighty and held great meaning—both then, and now. As we study this sign of Jesus, we’ll discover four approaches to problem solving. Isn’t it great to know that each time we open the Word of God, it’s an opportunity for us to be transformed? That is how powerful His Word in our life is, and it’s the reason why His Word never falls void (Isaiah 55:11). 

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

-          Jesus was acquiring quite the following (and you’ll find out next week that this following quickly diminishes). Notice that it doesn’t say people were following Him because they believed He was the Messiah—it was because they saw His signs and He healed the sick. This should make us pause and get super clear on why we follow Jesus. If someone walked up to you today and asked why you follow Christ, what would you say?

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

-          Jesus was on the mountainside with His disciples and had a wonderful vantage point—just as He has now, seated at the right hand of God (which signifies power; Mark 16:19). Jesus sees you, just as He saw this great crowd coming to Him.  

-          It says, “Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him…” He apparently knew they were hungry because He immediately asked Philip a question of testing (“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”). It’s good to know that Jesus sees inside of us. I was having a (virtual) discussion with a faithful friend this past week about the song Known by Tauren Wells. It’s wonderful to be fully known (as a sinful being) and still be radically loved by our Savior. Make no mistake: Jesus isn’t willing to “be okay” with a sinful lifestyle. His Word is clear. However, He was willing to die for you despite your hunger and brokenness. When we genuinely surrender our life to Him—He will not leave us alone.  

-          Each of the four gospels capture this miracle—it was that central to the ministry of Jesus. However, in Mark 6:35-36 and Matthew 15:23, the disciples first suggested to get rid of the problem by sending the people away.

Problem Solving Approach #1: This is the first of four approaches to problem solving: Make it go away (ignore it). This is a “safe space,” so we can be transparent with one another and share that we’ve all tried this approach. The mortgage or medical bill you can’t pay, the person you see in the grocery store that you really should go check in on, but you turn your head, or the gnawing sin that you just won’t come face-to-face with. We’ve all tried giving the “cold shoulder” to our problems.

-          I love that last sentence in verse 6: “He [Jesus] asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” Oh, this is good. Friends. Beloved. Daughters and Sons of the King: He already knows what He’s going to do with your situation. He’s ahead of you, not behind you.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Problem Solving Approach #2: Philip is saying, “I’ve done the math, Lord. The funds aren’t adding up.” This is the second of four approaches to problem solving: Find more money.

-          It would take 200 days’ wages to feed these 5,000 men (plus wives and children), and Philip counted that cost and saw it as an impossibility. It’s comforting to know that “Kingdom math” yields a much better answer than any common core math approach!

-          Our family knows what the “find more money” approach feels like. If you haven’t read the testimony of my husband leaving corporate America several years ago to pursue God’s calling to rebuild a small, Christian school…you should take a moment and be encouraged. The “math” didn’t work in that situation either, yet this choice continues to be one of the best decisions we’ve made as a family. God is faithful, even when there’s not enough bread for each one to have a bite!

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Problem Solving Approach #3: Andrew was known to bring people to Jesus (see John 1:40-42; 12:20-22). What a wonderful characteristic! I hope we’re all known for bringing others to Jesus’ loving arms. However, Andrew only provided a partial solution, which brings us to the third of four approaches to problem solving: But, God…

-          Andrew did the right thing by leading the young lad to Jesus. That’s where it should’ve stopped—there was no need for the second half of his sentence that reads, “…but how far will they go among so many?” There are wonderful “buts” of the Bible—scriptures that say “but God, and then something only God can do happens. Andrew threw in his own “but”—and it wasn’t focused on what Jesus could do, but instead why it wouldn’t work.

-          What situation is happening in your life right now where you’ve presented God with what you have, and yet you’re being a Doubting Thomas?

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

-          As I wrote about the three approaches to problem solving we’ve covered so far, I had flashbacks of times where I acted just like Phillip and Andrew. My husband and I were chatting the other night at dinner, and we both agreed we’d also make good Pharisees. It’s so easy—now that we know the Truth—to look at other people’s lives and see sin, unbelief, ridiculous decisions, laziness, brokenness, and more. We see it because we were (or are) those adjectives. How quickly we forget our own sin—and Jesus knew we would, which is why He said in Matthew 7:5, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  It’s convicting, I know. I feel it too. We’re fully known by Him, and still loved. Let’s set out to love others, too.

-          When I read verse 10 (“Have the people sit down.”), I think of Psalm 23. Jesus had the people sit down. If there’s one heart-breaker for me, it’s that others don’t learn to sit with Jesus. I love In-n-Out Burger. I’m going to Dallas this week for work, and I’m sure you will find me at one of their locations getting a cheeseburger (with no onions or lettuce). I don’t want the fries or the shake—just give me the burger, quickly. God is not our fast-food restaurant. It’s not about “squeezing in 5 minutes with God” or “fitting God into your busy schedule.” That’s backwards, beloved. If that is our approach to loving Jesus, we will live an unhealthy and unsatisfying life—just like if I ate a cheeseburger every day from In-n-Out. He wants you to sit down where there is plenty of space, not just converse with Him quickly in line and never give a second glance. Hear my heart when I say this: I’ve lived the margin-less days. I’ve worked until the wee hours of the night on everything but my relationship with God. I’ve done the wandering. I’ve tried the potions and notions of the world. And, I’ve been redeemed from that emptiness. Learn to sit where there is plenty of space. God will not force you to be with Him. He invites you to be led by the Great Shepherd and He’ll leave the 99 to find you if you’d just sit still!

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

Psalm 23

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

-          “When they had all had enough to eat…” The people were full. They were satisfied. We can trust that when Jesus is involved, He’ll prove to be more than enough. Just like He told the “bad Samaritan” that He was the Living Water and she’d never thirst again, so He shows to these people (and us) that He’s the Living Bread and we are full in Him.

-          Isn’t it amazing what God can do when we give thanks and bring to Jesus what we have. We each have some dry crackers and sardines in our pockets—trust me. Will you bring those to Him today? Will you stop ignoring the problem, computing the breadth of the problem, doubting the solution, and be still, give thanks, and surrender? He is more than enough for you. Let Him prove Himself to be the Living Bread (instead of that In-n-Out burger).

Problem Solving Approach #4: Be still. Give thanks. Surrender. Amen.

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